Building up Rochester's High-Speed Fiber Broadband

As people move into newly constructed homes across upstate New York, Greenlight Networks wants to make sure they’re welcomed with ultra-fast broadband connectivity that supports IoT, gaming and cloud-based anything.


Pre-installing new-builds was, after all, the first step Greenlight made when President and CEO Mark Murphy founded the company in 2011. That’s when a developer friend asked Murphy for help installing fiber-optics into the houses he was building, Murphy told Broadband World News. Like his friend, Murphy — who had worked at Time Warner Cable and Frontier and wanted to run his own company — believed high-speed broadband was a differentiator for contractors.


Following the Lines of Fiber
Greenlight Networks’ Mark Murphy prefers to lease lit fiber and follow existing middle-mile or other fiber to his company can avoid building costly, time-consuming fiber optic infrastructure from town-to-town. Other builders in the area agreed.

Rocking in Rochester
US News & World Report named Rochester one of its top 100 places to live, perhaps attracting more residents to an area already well-known for Kodak, Susan B. Anthony (and her home), The National Museum of Play and The Lilac Festival.


Most growth in and around Rochester, NY, is residential development, including the conversion of commercial buildings into multi-dwelling units (MDUs). About 7,000 people live downtown today; an additional 3,000 are estimated to move downtown by 2021 based on announced or underway projects, Rochester City Newspaper reported. That’s just downtown Rochester. Greenlight also works in Brighton, East Rochester, Fairport, Gates, Greece, Henrietta, Irondequoit, Penfield, Pittsford, Webster and West Henrietta.


Within its footprint, Greenlight offers speeds of 500 Mbit/s, 1 Gbit/s and 2 Gbit/s to residential, SMB and MDU customers. Within brownfields, it encourages residents to sign-up for services and, once critical mass is reached, Greenlight conducts an initial engineering study to determine the network design’s complexity and cost. It takes pre-orders and notifies pre-registered households. As orders arrive, Greenlight starts the engineering process and identifies any easement needs, working with the neighborhood to reach 100% saturation and resolve any easement issues. Once at goal, Greenlight gets permits and adds the neighborhood to its construction schedule. The provider then builds the network, including above or below-ground installation of fiber, and schedules in-home fiber installations.


Although Greenlight does use existing fiber where available and prefers to lease lit fiber from other operators, the task of laying fiber-optic cable often falls to the provider, Murphy said. Greenlight does not lease dark fiber when it deploys this cabling, he added. Rather, it keeps the line and broadband capability to itself, Murphy said. The provider factors in proximity to existing fiber when adding up construction costs, he said.


Greenlight uses GPON and XGS-PON to support its infrastructure, said Murphy. It considered NGS-PON2, but since Greenlight does not target large enterprises the next-gen PON technology was not cost-effective for its set-up, he said.


“Most of the cards and optics will be capable of doing all three — GPON, XGS-PON and NG-PON2 — so that gives us a lot more flexibility,” said Murphy. “The next evolution for customers is that the cost of customer equipment needs to come down a little more. We need a 10-gig router. Those need to come down.”


Secret to growth
In Greenlight’s early days, capital was a problem despite an infusion of several million dollars from local business professionals, local media reported. Greenlight was not growing fast enough to compete against potential infrastructure investments by tier one operators like Charter/Spectrum or tier twos including Frontier. Tom Golisano, who the Democrat and Chronicle described as a “local billionaire businessman and philanthropist,” acquired a controlling interest in Greenlight in 2018 (about 30% remains with Murphy).


High Speeds Ahead
When billionaire Tom Golisano acquired a controlling interest in Greenlight Networks in 2018 he brought cash, which the provider used in part to increase staff from eight to 50, including the addition of in-home technicians to replace contracted support staff.
Following the acquisition, Greenlight’s signups soared, with new construction and services reaching 3,900 more households in parts of Greece, Irondequoit and Rochester, NY. Staff size increased too — from about eight employees to approximately 50, with additions ranging from engineers to customer support and from marketing to field operations. The service provider hired its first chief financial officer, Philip Jones; created an internal marketing team with a focus on search engine optimization, analytics and customer-centric data and stopped contracting field operations and repair, Murphy said.

“Right now, we’ve had such an overwhelming amount of demand, our challenge has been finding enough engineering resources, enough construction resources to do the work. As we built our internal team and built up some of our construction-management functions we’re able to get more work done,” he noted. “We can see where the demand is and build to it, and there’s a whole lot more for us to do before we start getting into that realm of speculative builds. Part of the enhancements we made to our team are some additional resources on the analytics side …[and] we are doing a much better job on capturing the data and analytics… Going forward, it allows us to do a better job of market selection, even if we’re doing more a speculative model.”


To track availability, Greenlight created an interactive map where residents (and competitors) can follow the provider’s progress and sign up for news updates.


The Greenlight team working with new development has a long list of work lined up for the months ahead, but the provider is planning for leaner days when new-home construction slows down, said Murphy. While some providers see affluence as a determinant of a region’s ability to support broadband services, Greenlight views density as a stronger and more meaningful measure, he said. That allows Greenlight to reach across more parts of a city, Murphy added.


“For us, it has a lot more to do with density than it does with many other metrics. Some people assume that you want to be in the most affluent areas that you can be in and, really, that’s not necessarily what works best for us, because you’re going to have some of the lowest densities in the most affluent areas and so in some cases there’s almost an inverse relationship to where we want to go,” he said. “We’re going to go to communities that want us there, first and foremost. It’s a matter of looking at municipalities that want to work with us, partner with us. Look at where the density is favorable to us, which will help us out with the construction cost. And then it really gets more granular in terms of which subdivisions are we going to see a higher propensity of people ordering [our services].”


Greenlight and its market have grown over the past 11 years, but the broadband provider remains close to some early tenets: Fail fast and cut unnecessary expenses.


“We try to fail fast but we try to find new ways to drive cost out of the business,” Murphy said. “That’s not necessarily the cost of an ONT, but how do we drive down the costs of having our contractors splice out in the field?”


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